OEM Newsmaker Q&A: Ronald Garand

Jan. 1, 2020
Ronald Garand is the vice president, Vertical Development. Garand has been working in the technology standards and solutions space for 34 years.

Ronald Garand has been working in the technology standards and solutions space for 34 years. He formerly worked in marketing, new product development, pricing, and catalog management positions at companies like Fel-Pro, CR, Wagner Brake, and Dynagear before joining content management systems provider Vertical Development Inc. (VDI) in 1999.

What's the No. 1 technology setback you encounter in the aftermarket?

Wide acceptance by data receivers seems to top the list. Most suppliers have limited resources and budgets, so they tend to postpone projects until a major customer has a specific requirement. It's a chicken-and-egg scenario. While communication of product information has become increasingly critical, there just isn't adequate understanding of that by the C-level executives that control the budgets.

Another barrier we experience is the lack of understanding by many executives of what benefits they actually gain by implementing systems that leverage the industry standards. Some are starting to recognize that they're not going to grow if they don't comply. Those that recognize that, and realize how costly it is to implement the standards manually, are looking for efficient systems to help them.

With companies like Carquest acquiring WorldPac, and recently O'Reilly acquiring CSK, more data will be delivered directly to end users without a catalog company in the middle. Manufacturers not ready to meet these data challenges will lose business. When bar codes were introduced years ago, no one moved until customers said they would no longer receive shipments without a bar code; implementation was forced by the customer.

I always use the first SKU on the shelf story. The company with the latest information in their customers’ hands gets increased sales of new and profitable items. If it's on the shelf, it will get sold immediately. Once that product is on the shelf, they are going to reorder from that same supplier. That's a benefit of being on top of things.

The aftermarket is often accused of under spending on IT. Do you think this is true, and what kind of ramifications will this sort of behavior have?

I don’t think I would make a general statement that the industry under spends on IT, since many companies spend millions improving manufacturing and distribution infrastructures to better service customers. Unfortunately many manufacturers consider the catalog department a stepchild or a necessary evil. Surprisingly, we get new clients all the time that are still managing their catalogs in Access using report forms for publication, Excel, or some kind of publishing package. Instead of creating or acquiring a solution that can produce repeatable, high-quality data, they opt for shortcuts, trying to convert old data into new formats.

All they’re doing is trading one set of problems for another. The reason ACES was created is the previous standard had limitations, and didn't work well for non-engine parts. Converting old legacy data to ACES just moves the problem from one format to another; you need a system to modify and cleanse current data to make ACES work. Instead of implementing the least costly solution for today, companies need to realize a robust system will help increase sales, and save them money over the long term (three to five years).

We have implemented systems for companies who managed their data manually, and had outside companies convert their data to ACES. It always amazes us how much information is lost during these exercises, because the manufacturer has no good way to validate a job like that other than reading hundreds of thousands of lines of ACES data to assure nothing was missed. When we provided one sales manager a few sample part numbers missed in their existing electronic data, he immediately recognized them because management had recently asked why sales of these parts were way down.

Do you feel that current data and technology standards are appropriate and effective, and what do you think it will take to achieve widespread adherence to these standards?

In the past few years both ACES and PIES have significantly improved in quality and timeliness, and have proven to be effective tools to distribute data. While the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) and the group of industry leaders who contribute their time to standards development has done a great job of establishing a robust set of standards, I think implementations are not where they should be.

We simply have not done a good job of creating and communicating a return on investment story to the executive decision makers who need to add implementation costs into their budgets.

Do your customers understand the distinct difference between product attribute data (PIES) and application catalog data (ACES, e-catalogs)? Should there be more focus on product attribute data?

The front line people for the most part understand the differences, and some in management do also. Most companies don’t seem to see the value in PIES, and implementations are very limited when compared to ACES. The real issue with PIES is that few data receivers are requesting it. PIES will become more important as the growth of e-commerce continues, and thus it becomes a hot priority with executives who want to expand their sales to companies selling on the Internet.

The biggest challenge on the PIES side is just compiling the data. That's a complex process, and involves finding out where all the data resides, how accurate it is, and who has access to it. Every department, from cataloging, pricing, engineering, and marketing to the warehouse for packaging has to be involved. ACES kind of drives itself because you have sell the product based on the application. PIES is really more of a cultural change that has to come from the executive level.

Because of a lack of full implementation of product attribute data standards, the aftermarket is not necessarily an appealing market to software providers. Should there be more software providers in the industry, and if so, how does the industry attract this talent?

It really depends on the type software you are referring to. When it comes to suppliers of catalog or product information management (PIM) systems, there are plenty serving the market already. The problem is the varied experience levels. About ten percent of our clients were previous owners of a failed solution, or a provider that went out of business. Getting a company to invest a second time in a solution is tough.

On the selling side (internet reseller) solutions, yes, lack of standards implementation is a problem since they cannot run their business without ACES and PIES data. They need to know the data they need is available before they spend on an infrastructure to sell parts on-line.

Then there is the third software portion, the e-cat companies. The investment in next-generation catalog systems is dependent on the availability of rich product data, images, technical information, installation instructions, and more that need to be coded to ACES or PIES for presentation in their systems.

A final area lacking is that smaller e-commerce companies don’t want to spend too much money to acquire catalog data, and manufacturers are concerned about sending their data to everyone because they don’t want their investment in the data to get into the competitors’ hands, making their job easier. We recently released a service called www.ShowMeTheParts.com that allows manufacturers to supply data we serve to clients in a secure manner for a modest hosting fee to help enable those companies.

Are there sales opportunities that you think companies in the aftermarket are currently missing that new technology might enable?

An example justifying the standard and the need for speed is someone like Jiffy Lube, who could see a 2008 or 2009 model for service just months after the vehicles release. If they don’t have accurate and complete data, the customer is going to go to the dealer for their service. In the fast lube channel, people are there mainly to have their car serviced quickly. With the availability of current product information, add on sales of wiper blades or similar service products can add profit to the job ticket.

Better communication of application and part data can help improve business since product mixes are always evolving and changing.

I just got my oil changed at a QuickLube, and the guy pulled out two printed catalogs, one for their filter vendor with an interchange in the back, and another from an unnamed major company. He found my car in the competitive catalog, and used the supplier catalog to interchange it to check stock. My obvious question: Why? He said their electronic catalog had too many errors and missed coverage, his supplier had terrible cataloging but good prices, and the competitive filter book he used was the best in the industry. Wow, what a waste of labor in the shop! He said, "I'm playing catalog roulette; if I look in enough places I will find the answer."

The winners in the race for market share are going to be those who have the best systems and the most discipline in their processes. Companies like Advance Auto, AutoZone, Carquest, NAPA and O'Reilly, are just a few of those types of companies that are going to survive the next shakeup. The key lesson here for the manufacturer is these companies are already requiring complete, rich, and timely catalog and product data from their vendors.

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